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更新时间:2018-11-15 20:30:06 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Why the French don't show excitement

When I was 19 years old, after five years of back-and-forth trips that grew longer each time, I finally relocated officially from the United States to France. Already armed with a fairly good grasp of the language, I was convinced that I would soon assimilate into French culture.


Of course, I was wrong. There’s nothing like cultural nuance to remind you who you are at your core: my Americanness became all the more perceptible the longer I remained in France, and perhaps no more so than the day a French teacher told me his theory on the key distinction between those from my native and adopted lands.


“You Americans,” he said, “live in the faire [to do]. The avoir [to have]. In France, we live in the être [to be].”


The moment he said it, it made perfect sense. I thought back to my life in New York, where every moment was devoted to checking tasks off a perpetual to-do list or planning for the days, weeks and years to come. In France, however, people were perfectly contented to just be.


During two-hour lunch breaks, they sat at sidewalk cafes and watched the world pass them by. Small talk was made up not of what they did for a living, but where they had recently been on holiday. Women working at the post office chatted lazily with one another as the queue ticked slowly forward, enjoying the company of their co-workers while I impatiently waited to buy stamps so that I could fulfil my self-assigned obligation of sending postcards home.


I wanted very badly to blend in and live in the être, but it was harder than it looked. It seemed that no matter what I did, I exposed myself as an American. I smiled too much. I spoke too loudly. And I got excited way too often.


I knew before moving that the French word ‘excité’ was verboten. It is one of the first ‘false friends’ that a student of the language becomes aware of. Most French learners can recall the day that a classmate first uttered the phrase ‘Je suis excité’ (which literally translates as ‘I am excited’) only to have their teacher hem and haw uncomfortably before explaining that the word excité doesn’t signal emotional but rather physical excitement. A better translation of the phrase Je suis excité into English would be ‘I am aroused’.

移居之前我就知道法语中“激动的”一词是禁止使用的。这是初学者都会碰到的 "假朋友"之一。大多数学法语的人都有这样的经历,班里的同学第一次念出“Je suis excité”(字面意义为“我很激动”)时,老师总是尴尬地支支吾吾,然后解释说,“激动”一词不是指情感流露,而是指肉体的兴奋。这句表达在英语中更准确的意思是“我的性欲被撩起了”。v

French doesn’t have the excited/aroused lexical pair that English does, so one word does both jobs. Excité technically denotes excitement both “objective (a state of stimulation) and subjective (feelings),” according to Olivier Frayssé, professor of American Civilization at Paris-Sorbonne University, but the physical sensation is the one most often implied. “If ‘aroused’ existed, it would be unnecessary to interpret ‘excité’ this way,” he explained.

不像英语用“情绪激动”和“肉体兴奋”两个词分别表述,法语是一词两用。巴黎索邦大学(Paris-Sorbonne University)美洲文明专业教授弗莱赛(Olivier Frayssé)认为,严格意义上,这一词所指的激动“既有客观层面(一种被激发的状态)也有主观层面(感情流露)”,但最常暗指的是肉体的兴奋。他解释道:“如果存在‘肉体兴奋’一词,则‘激动’这个词就无需做那种解释。”

Anglophones, meanwhile, blessed with both words, are free to use ‘excited’ as we please – which we (particularly Americans) do with reckless abandon. We’re excited for our weekend plans, for the summer holiday, to get home after a long day of work and relax in front of our favourite Netflix show. But English speakers who live in France have no way to express this sentiment in the language of our adopted country. As opposed to other false friends – like ‘Je suis pleine’, which means not ‘I’m full’, as its literal translation suggests, but ‘I’m pregnant’, forcing Francophones to use periphrases like ‘J’ai assez mangé’ (‘I’ve eaten enough’) – not only is ‘Je suis excité’ not the appropriate way to convey excitement, but there seems to be no real way to express it at all.

英语就有两个词可以表达不同的意思,所以可以随便用“激动”这个词——我们(尤其是美国人)可以说是用得随心所欲。我们对周末的安排很激动,对暑假很激动,对结束漫长的一天回到家里欣赏最爱的Netflix节目很激动。但是对于住在法国讲英语的人,却不能用当地的语言表达这种情绪。这和其它"假朋友"不一样——比如Je suis pleine,意思是“我怀孕了”,而不是字面所指的“我吃饱了”,讲法语的人只好迂回曲折地说“我已经吃得够多了”。以“我很激动”来表露心情不是恰当的法语表达方式,而且可能实际上就没有表达此意的词组。

“I usually say ‘Je suis heureuse’ [‘I’m happy’] or ‘J’ai hâte de’ [‘I’m looking forward to’],” one bilingual friend said. Neither quite captures the intensity of excitement, but it seems these are the best substitutes that French has to offer.


“I think it's safe to say I express excitement often and outwardly,” said bilingual Australian Dr Gemma King, who teaches French language and cinema at the Australian National University in Canberra, noting that when she speaks French, it is another story entirely. “My students and I often joke that our cooler, calmer, more reticent sides come out when we're speaking French,” she said.

在堪培拉澳大利亚国立大学教法语和电影课程的杰玛·金博士(Gemma King)是用英法双语的澳大利亚人。她说:“我敢肯定自己经常地、公开地表达激动之情,”但当她讲法语时,就完全是另一回事。她说:“学生们和我都常常开玩笑说,讲法语时我们会展示自身更冷静、更沉着、更缄默的那一面。”

This is not, then, a mere question of translation, but rather a question of culture. Like other untranslatable terms like Japan’s shinrin-yoku (the relaxation gained from being around nature) or dadirri (deep, reflective listening) in aboriginal Australian, it seems as though the average French person doesn’t need to express excitement on the day to day.


For Julie Barlow, Canadian co-author of The Story of French and The Bonjour Effect, this is largely due to the implied enthusiasm in the word ‘excited’, something that’s not sought after in French culture. She notes that Francophone Canadians, culturally North American rather than French, find work-arounds such as ‘Ça m’enthousiasme’ (‘It enthuses me’).

《法语的故事和“你好”效应》(The Story of French and The Bonjour Effect)的共同作者之一朱丽·巴洛(Julie Barlow)是加拿大人。对她而言,这很大程度上是因为“激动的”一词中隐含的豪情是法国文化中所没有的。她指出,讲法语的加拿大人,在文化意义上属于北美而不是法国,他们使用的变通讲法包括“这激发了我的兴趣”。

“[The French] don't appreciate in conversation a kind of positive, sunny exuberance that's really typical of Americans and that we really value,” Barlow explained. “Verbally, ‘I'm so excited’ is sort of a smile in words. French people prefer to come across as kind of negative, by reflex.

巴洛解释道:“(法国人)不喜欢对话中充满积极的活力阳光,那恰恰是美国人所特有的,也正是我们认为重要的。” 可以说,“我真激动”是语言中的微笑,但法国人本能地倾向于给人留下略微消极的印象。

My French husband agrees.


“If you’re too happy in French, we’re kind of wondering what’s wrong with you,” he said. “But in English, that’s not true.”


For some, however, it’s not necessarily negativity that the French seek, but reserve.


“I think there is something cultural about the greater level of reservation French people tend to show in everyday conversation,” Dr King said. “From my perspective, it doesn't mean they show less enthusiasm, but perhaps less of an emotional investment in things they are enthusiastic about.”


Indeed, those who are unable to show the proper emotional detachment within French society can even be perceived as being somehow deranged, something that is exemplified by the pejorative labelling of former President Nicolas Sarkozy as ‘l’excité’, due to the zeal he shows in public appearances.


American Matt Jenner lived in France for several years and is bilingual. For him, it is not necessarily a matter of the French not being able to express their excitement, but rather that English speakers – and Americans in particular – tend to go overboard. The American public, he says, has been trained “to have a fake, almost cartoonish view on life, in which superficial excitement and false happiness are the norm.” By comparison, he notes, in France, “excitement is typically shown only when it is truly meant.”

讲双语的美国人马特·詹纳(Matt Jenner)在法国生活了多年。在他看来,不一定是法国人不会表达激动之情,而是讲英语的人——尤其是美国人——往往太过夸张。他说,美国民众已经练就“虚假的、近乎卡通式的人生观,表面的激动和虚假的快乐成为常态。 ”他指出,相比而言,在法国,“激动一般只用于表达肉体的兴奋。”

Authenticity has been important to the French since the Revolution, according to Brice Couturier at France Culture. “The Ancien Régime, indeed, had cultivated a culture of the court and of salons, based on the art of appearances and pleasing,” he said. “This culture implied a great mastery of the behavioural codes of the time, as well as an ability to conceal one’s true emotions.”

法国文化(France Culture)网站的布里斯·库图里埃(Brice Couturier)认为,自法国大革命以来,真实对法国人而言十分重要。他说:“诚然,旧制度在华丽与享乐艺术的基础上,培育了一种王宫和沙龙文化,这种文化意味着娴熟掌握那个时代的行为准则,以及掩饰自己真情实感的能力。”

In reaction, Couturier continued, the French revolutionaries fought back against these masks and this hypocrisy – something that the French maintain today by expressing their emotions as truthfully as possible to avoid appearing inauthentic.


This tendency was something that irked me when I first noticed it: French friends saying that a dish they tried in a restaurant was just ‘fine’, or shrugging nonchalantly when I asked if they were looking forward to their holiday. Their attitude struck me as unnecessarily negative. But on our first joint visit to the US, my husband opened my eyes to the somewhat forced hyperbole of American excitement. After our server cheerfully greeted us at a restaurant, he asked if she was a friend of mine; he could think of no other reason why her welcome would be so enthusiastic.


“I used to judge Americans because I thought they were always too ecstatic, always having disproportionate reactions,” he told me years later, though now, he added, “I feel like I have two worlds in my head, one in French and one in English. I feel like the English world is a lot more fun than the French one.”


After 11 years of living in France, my innate desire to say “Je suis excitée” has faded. But I still fixate on the idea that the French live in the être.


When we were first dating, my husband used to watch me buzzing around like a busy bee, making plans for the future. He, meanwhile, was able to find not excitement, but contentment, in nearly everything. His frequent motto, whether we were drinking rosé in the sunshine or just sitting in a park, was: “on est bien, là” – we are good, here.

我们开始约会时,我丈夫经常看着我像勤劳的小蜜蜂一样忙来忙去,为将来做计划。而他却不像我那般激动,几乎做每件事都慢条斯理,安然若素。无论我们在阳光下啜饮半干红葡萄酒,还是在公园里坐一会儿, 他最常说的口头禅是:“我们这样真好。”

Excitement, after all, has a forward-thinking connotation, a necessary suggestion of the future. Ubiquitous in Anglophone culture, where we are often thinking about imminent or far-off plans, about goals and dreams, this is far less present among French people who, on the contrary, tend to live more in the moment. It’s not necessarily that they don’t think of the future but that they don’t fixate on the future. They consider it, cerebrally, but their emotions are in the present.


“Life in France places you happily in the present tense,” Paris-based author Matthew Fraser told The Local, “unlike in Anglo-Protestant countries where everything is driving madly towards the future.”

在巴黎工作的作者马修·弗雷泽(Matthew Fraser)对“本地网站”(The Local)说:“在法国生活让人们尽情享受此时此刻,不像在说英语的新教国家,一切都疯狂地指向将来。”

The excitement that drives Anglophones to action, motivating us and driving us to look ahead is not nearly as present in France. But joie de vivre and contentment in simple pleasures certainly are. And when one is living in the moment, there’s no need to think about – or get excited about – what’s next.